How Amy Schumer’s Openness on Trichotillomania Made Me Inject Purpose into My Estate Plan

If a charity holds a special place in your heart, here are three practical ways you can support it through your estate plan.

Amy Schumer promotes her movie "Trainwreck" on Aug. 8, 2015, in Locarno, Switzerland.
Amy Schumer promotes her movie "Trainwreck" on Aug. 8, 2015, in Locarno, Switzerland.
(Image credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

As an estate planning attorney by trade, there was never really a question over whether or not I’d take the time to do my own estate plan. At the same time, however, early adulthood for me was not a time of deep contemplation surrounding my own mortality or the legacy I sought to leave behind someday.

Admittedly, I rushed it a bit when creating my estate plan. I went through the motions to check the box. But in recent years, after getting married, buying a home and becoming a mother, I began to think more about my eventual legacy. I wished for my estate plan to hold deep meaning and purpose. Of course, the fact that I left private practice to join a social enterprise that links estate planning to charitable giving probably played a role, too.

The only barrier? I’m a busy person. I wanted to be thoughtful. But I never seemed to get around to holding that internal dialogue about what causes were most near and dear to me.

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Amy Schumer’s Story Spoke to Me

Ultimately, my inspiration came recently from an unexpected source: Amy Schumer. In March, in an interview surrounding the release of her new Hulu TV series, Life & Beth, Schumer opened up (opens in new tab) about her lifelong struggle with trichotillomania – an impulse disorder best described (opens in new tab) as irresistible urges to pull out your hair.

She spoke of the shame she carried throughout her life surrounding her struggles with trichotillomania, and she even shared that there had been a time when she pulled out so much of her hair that she needed to wear a wig at school, concealing very little. At the end of an episode relating to Schumer’s experience with trichotillomania, Hulu told viewers that if they knew any sufferers, they could turn to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. There was my catalyst.

As a lifelong sufferer of trichotillomania myself, this struck a chord with me. At points, I’d tried to hide it; at other times it was simply too much to hide, and bewildered friends and classmates as early as elementary school would ask if I was sick. I admired Amy Schumer for having the courage to come forward as a rare public face for a disorder that affects 15 million Americans (opens in new tab) to varying degrees, but all too often is willfully hidden and goes unaddressed. I also admired Hulu for being thoughtful enough to be action-oriented by directing viewers to outlets for support.

Schumer speaking up proved to be the spark I needed to go back and update my own estate plan by infusing it with purpose to make sure that helping other sufferers of trichotillomania became part of my future legacy.

3 Ways to Include Charities in Your Own Estate Plan

You might be wondering at this point, “Great, how do I go about doing something similar with my own estate plan to give to a charity that’s important to me? What documents do I need?” There are three avenues I’d suggest, each of which is part of what I did:

No. 1: Make an Outright Bequest

This is probably the most intuitive and easy to understand method for supporting causes you love through your estate plan. It’s also the most traditional way. Simply include language in your will to the following effect: "I give to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, a nonprofit organization, EIN 77-0266587, with an address at 716 Soquel Avenue, Suite A, Santa Cruz, CA 95062, or its lawful successors, the sum of __________ dollars to be used as determined by its Board of Directors (or equivalent governing body)."

No. 2: Name Beneficiaries for Non-Probate Assets

Non-probate assets include assets held in trust (opens in new tab), life insurance policy payouts, and retirement accounts or pensions. For each non-probate asset, you can name a beneficiary, and it doesn’t need to be the same person or organization for every asset. Some can go to your family, some can go to charity.

Important to remember, however, is that beneficiary designations control the disposition of your non-probate assets. If a number of years have gone by since you set your beneficiaries, for example, you may want to double-check the designations on file with your IRA custodian, etc. to make sure they reflect your current wishes.

Finally, when determining the best allocation of probate vs. non-probate assets, keep in mind that if you are concerned with the tax aspect of asset transfers, the tax system allows assets like stock, mutual funds, bonds and real estate to get a step-up in basis. Your loved ones may, therefore, appreciate the ability to inherit these types of assets under your will, and nonprofits (exempt from federal income taxes) will not be harmed on account of this tax-wise allocation.

No. 3: Request That Gifts Be Made in Memoriam

“Instead of flowers, please leave a gift to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.”

You’ve probably seen language resembling this from time to time after someone passes away. These written instructions can provide helpful guidance to your agents, funeral executor and loved ones. It is recommended that you keep these instructions separate from your will in a safe place (but make sure your loved ones know where to find them!), as they need to be acted upon in advance of any probate proceeding. In memoriam gift requests can be a good way to help mobilize support for a cause you believe in that goes beyond allocating the assets in your estate.

The Takeaway

It’s important to get your estate plan completed, but even if you don’t have time to do so on your first pass, it’s good to return later to ensure your planning holds sufficient purpose, if that’s something you care about. It’s easy, and the tools today are readily accessible. Always keep your eyes open about causes that matter to you. They’ll appreciate your support.

And if, as in my case, you feel inspired to make an impact now through a real-time gift, think about stocks, bonds or increasingly, crypto assets (opens in new tab) you may currently own. Non-cash assets also can go a long way, allowing you to make a bigger impact and possibly save on your taxes as well.

My hope is that my words are seen, along with Amy Schumer’s and over time, people are more comfortable opening up and seeking help. At the same time, I’d love to inspire other sufferers to contribute to our community as part of their legacy. I’ll be watching with love and support.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Allison L. Lee, Esq.
Attorney-at-Law, Director Trusts & Estate Content, FreeWill

Allison L. Lee is the Attorney-at-Law, Director Trusts & Estate Content for FreeWill (opens in new tab), a mission-based public benefit corporation that partners with nonprofits to provide a simple, intuitive and efficient online self-help platform to create wills and other estate planning documents free of cost. Through its work democratizing access to these tools, FreeWill has helped raise billions for charity. Prior to joining FreeWill, Allison spent more than a decade in private practice.